Many aspiring dog trainers attend a program at the School for Dog Trainers to fully immerse themselves in the world of dog training. They want to learn from a world-class team of dog trainers, studying a broad array of topics including canine behavior service dog training, detection, working dogs, amongst others.
However, to have a successful career in the field of dog training, knowing how to train a dog is only part of the equation. There is another important – yet frequently overlooked – aspect to achieving success.
Understanding how to effectively market yourself and your dog training business is pivotal to your success. After all, you could know everything there is to know about dog training – but if you can’t attract clients, or don’t know how to market your business, how will you actually put that knowledge to use?
As part of our programs at the School for Dog Trainers, we aim to provide our students with an understanding of how to market their dog training business after graduation. We offer ideas for advertising strategies, outline how to plan and design a website, and show you how to provide great customer service to clients. Many of our graduates use this valuable knowledge to successfully start their own dog training businesses.
In this article, we’re going to outline some of the things you can do to give yourself the best chance of success when it comes to marketing your dog training business (this information is a taster of the detailed marketing guidance students receive during their programs at the School for Dog Trainers – and we also offer ongoing support for our Alumni after graduation).
Stage One: Starting your business
With the ever-increasing size of the pet industry, combined with cultural shifts across the globe which have resulted in dogs being treated more as family members than just pets, there has genuinely never been a better time to start a dog training business. After all, as long as there are dog owners, there will always be a need for dog trainers to resolve problematic behaviors and teach obedience.
There are factors to think about before you even start your business, including education, your services, and the locations you will serve.
Does a dog training education matter?
Whilst there is no requirement to gain a certification in canine behavior to become a dog trainer, data collected from trainers in the industry shows that, on average, trainers who had studied and gained a dog training certification earned around 40% compared with trainers who had no education in dog training.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, it is likely that those who have studied dog training will deliver better results for their clients, as they have more knowledge to draw upon. Secondly, with certification and training comes legitimacy. If a trainer has attended a respected educational establishment to obtain their dog training certification, there are obvious reputational benefits for their business, which means they can potentially charge a premium for their services.
Which services will your business offer?
There are a lot of services which fall under the umbrella of dog training. Whilst many people will think of basic obedience when it comes to training, even that isn’t straightforward – for example, will you offer it in a group setting or as private, one-on-one lessons? Will you have a boarding facility where owners can drop their dogs off, or will you visit their homes? Will you offer specialized services such as detection or trick training?
The list of questions is extensive, but it is really worth taking the time to think about this. You should focus on which services are likely to have demand in your area. It is also useful to consider which areas of dog training are of particular interest to you. Obedience is likely to be the most popular service in most areas, but there may be demand for specialist services, too. And remember, you can start small with your service options and add to it as your business grows – don’t overwhelm yourself by offering dozens of different services right out the gate.
Which locations will you serve?
The locations your business will serve will depend on your own location; the proximity of towns and cities close to you; demand for dog training in these areas; and the distance you are willing to travel to serve potential clients.
You should carry out market research on population sizes, median household incomes and pet ownership statistics in each of the areas you intend to serve. You can also look at your competitor’s pricing structures to see how you compare. This will help you to price your services accordingly.
What is unique about your business?
Okay, so every dog trainer is in the business of training dogs – but what will convince a potential client to choose your business over your competition?
You have to take some time to consider what makes your business different. Saying “well, I’m a better dog trainer than everyone else” isn’t a valid answer – it’s just a claim that anyone can make, and in itself, it won’t convince dog owners to work with you.
Instead, think about the services you are providing; the programs you choose to offer; your experience or education in the field of dog training; and how you price your services. You can use any of these factors to differentiate yourself and make your business stand out from the crowd.
Stage 2: Getting your business off the ground
So, you’ve done all your research. You’ve decided which services you’re going to offer. You know where you’re going to offer them. You’ve worked out the details of your pricing. Now what?
The next step is to actually promote your business and get it off the ground. You can use a mixture of tactics to market your business and get the word out.
Establish your online presence
In the modern world, more people are using the internet than ever before to search for service providers – particularly in their local area. It appears that this trend is only going to continue in the future. Thinking about how your business will appear online is of critical importance, so here are the basics you’ll need to get your business moving:
- Logo and brand identity – you can use your logo on your marketing materials (flyers, brochures, business cards, etc.), both online and offline. Your brand identity – including your colors, fonts and imagery – will help to differentiate your business from your competition.
- Professionally designed website – your website is your own slice of the internet. Think of it as your hub – the place you’ll direct potential clients to learn more about your business. It is vital to make a good impression with visitors to your website, as for many of them, this is the first interaction they will have with your business. Combined with an effective Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy, your website will be one of the most reliable ways to generate new business.
- Social networks – regular posts on social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and Twitter can allow you to provide updates and offers to your target audience.
Friends, family and word-of-mouth
With your online presence established, you now have a place where you can direct people to learn more about your business. If you have friends or family members, tell them about your business and let them know that they can send potential clients in your direction.
It’s important to note that word-of-mouth and referrals can only take you so far. It isn’t always a sustainable method for business growth in the long run, but in the early days, it can help you to build a client base and enhance your reputation.
Increase visibility in your local community
Building a presence in your local area is a great way to form connections and increase visibility of your business.
For example, you could hold a free community event for dog owners in your local area, enabling controlled socialization or helping them with behavioral problems. Signing up with your local Chamber of Commerce or reaching out to local newspapers are other useful ways to get noticed locally.
Form partnerships with other businesses
In your area, think of all the places a dog owner may visit, and explore whether you can forge a partnership with those businesses. By introducing yourself, you are increasing the likelihood that they may refer anyone with dog training needs to you.
The following types of establishments are prime possibilities for partnerships:
- Pet stores
- Animal shelters/rescues
Building these partnerships is a great way to increase visibility in your local community and gain business from word-of-mouth referrals. Consider asking if you can leave flyers or business cards which can be handed out to potential clients.
Stage 3: Keeping the momentum going
Once you have established your business, you’ll need to think of ways to keep growing and expanding your client base.
Although local partnerships and friends/family can be a great way to get your business going initially, it can be difficult to rely entirely on these methods for long-term growth. After all, essentially, you would be completely reliant on others for your success, by asking them for continued referrals.
At this stage, you need to consider options for continued growth. As your revenue increases, you give your business the opportunity to acquire new clients through spending money on other methods of marketing and advertising. Traditional methods of advertising, such as print or newspaper ads, can work here. Developing and growing your website and social media presence can also help, utilizing channels such as search engine optimization (SEO) or social media advertising.
You could elect to take out a paid advertisement in a newspaper or magazine. Costs will vary depending on the type of publication, the day of the week, the size of the advertisement, and other factors.
Print advertising can be a great way to reach a large number of people, particularly in your local area. It can, however, be expensive – and you’ll have no real, usable data to ascertain how many people actually saw your ad.
Spending money on paid online advertising – such as Google Ads, or social media channels like Facebook or Instagram – is another tactic to promote your business. You can target different demographics (for example, by age, location or interests) and start with smaller costs to monitor how effective your campaigns are.
With the increasing popularity of search engines and social media, paid online advertising can seem like an attractive option. Whilst you can scale your costs accordingly, using it as a long-term strategy does require you to spend money on the advertising, week after week and month after month.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
In a nutshell, a successful SEO strategy will enable your website to appear near the top of search results for specific search terms. Organic search has frequently been cited as one of the most trusted ways for individuals to find businesses to work with.
SEO is not a quick-fix, but the long-term benefits are undeniable. Building up the strength of your website allows you to build and grow your brand. If you are able to rank near the top of search engine results – and maintain your position – you will always have a steady stream of interested customers ready for you to train their dogs. Great quality content on your site, combined with online reviews from satisfied clients, are the pillars of any successful SEO campaign.
However, you should also beware of SEO ‘specialists’ who make outlandish promises or guarantee immediate results. If their claims appear to be too good to be true, they most likely are. SEO is not a ‘set it and forget it’ tactic, nor is it something you should expect immediate results from. Be sure to ask questions and look for case studies before committing to working with an agency or individual providing SEO services.
As you build, sustain and grow your dog training business, you will quickly learn that there is no silver bullet to marketing. You will likely need a mixture of some of the ideas listed above to achieve success in an increasingly competitive industry.
This article merely scratches the surface of the material we teach at the School for Dog Trainers in relation to starting a successful dog training business. If you want to learn more about how to start your own dog training business and are interested in enrolling in one of our courses, please visit our Programs page or contact us for more information.